I grew up in Bramley, West Leeds. In the late seventies and early eighties, there weren’t many local cinemas, in fact it was the era of closing cinemas. And as each local picture house closed, the only option was a bus into Leeds to the ABC or the Odeon.
Except in Armley, where there was The Lyric.
On Tong Road, half-way between Bramley and Leeds, the Lyric was typical of the hundreds of cinemas in Leeds that grew out of the heydey of cinema going. Built in 1922, it was built as a silent picture house and it told a story of another time.
This classic old cinema held a mythical status in our minds. Resolutely open when video was beginning to rule the roost, this grand dame of moving pictures stayed in business and we would walk or bus from our estate and enjoy films on a big screen, as they were intended. We had cocoa when it was cold, snogged on the back row and it was affectionately known as the fleapit.
And then it closed. We paid it no heed, and moved on.
For years I drove past its shell, sitting proudly on Tong Road. I would pass this cinematic real estate it in my car, reminiscing each time in some small way.
And then thirty years later there was an invite. An arts project, breathing life into an emblematic West Leeds building that had been drafted into the work of God (the Lyric housed a couple of churches in recent times).
Artist Lucy Skaer discovered that the two original theatre projectors had sat locked in the projection room for all these years. Her ambition was to get the locally made projectors running again – the last film they projected was Good Morning Vietnam in 1988. The projectors have been lovingly restored by Alan Foster, head projectionist at Hyde Park Picture House (and, it turned out, projectionist at The Lyric from 1979-1988 – we were punters there too at this time).
Wow, interesting. The Lyric, sat there, patiently waiting for its projectors to spark into life again, after thirty years.
It was very, very cool to revisit this old friend of a place.
The Lyric has had a time of it recently and although her day job is something else now, she’s a proud old building. It was a genuine joy to see the red neon Lyric sign from Tong Road lovingly restored with original neon beaming down.
The production is ‘Film for an Abandoned Projector’ and I’m thankful that this project made this all happen. Spending time in the hot, noisy projection room was a treat. Talking to the projectionists, seeing the old school skills and techniques and looking over the back of the neon Lyric sign was the biggest treat of all. A sight I thought didn’t even exist.
Skaer describes her film as ‘the imagined subconscious of the projectors’ and that’s a very engaging thought. All the films these machines have projected over the years, onto our imaginations. And over the coming weeks, the film will degrade (as the cinema and projectors have degraded ), becoming ‘marked and flecked in time’.
It strikes me as a very human thought, in touch with our own mortality and humanity.
Robust bits of kit gamely deliver art house flicks, whilst urbanites with toddlers drink Brooklyn lager, in an oasis of culture and respect. This could be perceived as pretentious bollocks.
In this instance, Pavilion’s work may seem niche and contrived to some, but I think it’s vital to the continued life and narrative of our city.